Remembering Western MA’s Calvin Coolidge on Presidents’ Day

Today’s Presidents’ Day holiday is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government, but it’s commonly known as a celebration of all U.S. presidents. That includes some of the less remembered presidents such as Calvin Coolidge, who got his political start in western Massachusetts. 

Known as “Silent Cal,” Coolidge was a famously private public figure. But Amity Shlaes, author of a new biography of President Calvin Coolidge, says he was more than that.

“The caricature is that he’s cold, and doesn’t care about people,” says Shlaes.  “He cared a lot about people, he just believed the caring for people should often happen at the local level, in the church, in the town.”

Born in Vermont, Coolidge garnered an impressive resume in western Massachusetts. He attended Amherst College, was a private lawyer in Northampton, and became Mayor of the city in 1910. He went on to become a Massachusetts State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and Vice President, before becoming  President in 1923. Shlaes says Coolidge was a progressive Republican – he supported Women’s suffrage and courted the votes of immigrant families. But she says Coolidge, who strongly believed in local and state control of government, changed when he entered national politics.

“He was a more decidedly conservative Vice President and President than he had been as a state lawmaker here in Massachusetts.”

Shlaes says Coolidge’s presidency deserves more recognition. But she says Coolidge’s attitudes toward federal spending have limited the resources for foundations and memorials in his name. 

“One reason they’re not so big is Coolidge didn’t like government support. He was anxious about it. So he sort of cut off his legacy nose to spite his legacy face.”

But spend enough time in Northampton, and you’re bound to run into a few memorials, exhibits, and public works celebrating the quiet 30th President.